Given that Francesca Zambello’s staging of Don Giovanni was a visual mess and dramatically inert when first unveiled in 2003, any revival director has their work cut out trying to make sense out of such a dog’s breakfast of a staging. Previous revivals have succeeded or failed on the quality of the cast, and according to all reports this Cast B revival, musically at least, was a marked improvement on Cast A. I’m just glad I wasn’t at the Cast A performance. Although there are some performances to cherish, for the most part this cast mugs and japes its way through Mozart and Da Ponte’s superbly crafted opera that makes a Russ Abbott end-of-the-pier ‘Summertime Special’ look like the RSC.
Barbara Lluch, the revival director, certainly has an uphill struggle, but to throw in the towel from the beginning and let the cast run riot is a sure signal of failure. The whole evening is played for laughs, of the dark undercurrents underlying this work there is not a trace and when the lead decides it’s OK to start playing to the audience and physically interact with a woman sitting close to the stage, you know that there’s a total lack of respect for the work in hand. What possessed Erwin Schrott to do this is beyond me. Perhaps he felt that things needed livening up a bit? It was ghastly. For the most part he sings well, and it isn’t his fault that he has to sing his ‘Champagne Aria’ invisible to vast swathes of the audience, positioned up a flight of steps with his head obscured from view. I mean, what was the thinking behind this?
If the musical performance hadn’t been so dire then maybe the evening wouldn’t have been such an endurance, but conductor Constantinos Carydis is a hectoring, overbearing presence in the pit and the orchestra responds with graceless playing. Either too fast, the overture and opening scene, or mordantly slow, Leporello’s ‘Catalogue Aria’ played as a dirge, this is ‘self-conscious’ conducting of the highest order. I lost count of the times that stage and pit parted company. Last time round the late, great Sir Charles Mackerras shared the conducting with Sir Antonio Pappano. ‘Nuff said.
Next to Schrott, Alex Exposito is a strong vocal presence as Leporello, whilst the most stylish singing of the evening comes from Pavol Breslik’s noble and beautifully articulated Don Ottavio. Ruxandra Donose is generally good as Donna Elvira but like so many mezzos before her, comes a cropper in ‘Mi tradi’. Carmela Remigio has a decent stab at Donna Anna, but her soprano is a couple of grades too small to do proper justice to the role. Matthew Rose is a voluminous Masetto, but alas partnered with a shrill Zerlina (Kate Lindsey).
Kasper Holten’s priority must be a new staging of this enigmatic work, as Zambello’s mise-en-scène is now well past its sell-by date and if truth be told, just plain embarrassing.